big grunt in a smart suit
The first time that I really understood what grunt meant
was when I saw a scene in a film called The Man From Hong Kong
. In it
this guy on an orange and brown Z1 comes up behind the baddies in a van
and slaps a magnetic mine on the back doors. He guns it and the front wheel comes up about 18 inches,
just enough to let you know this bike has got what it takes and more. All the time everybody is really booting it.
The way that front wheel left the pavement with absolutely no effort was
impressive, all the power in the world at your wrist!
The big Zed meant three things; heaps of grunt, great looks and dodgy
handling. Of all the big Japanese fours to me the Zed was the best
looking. The different elements came together to form one hell of a cool looking
bike, there was nothing that didn't fit perfectly into the styling theme,
everything just gelled so well. It was a world-class job by anyone's
standards, and to my eyes it is as good looking as a '69 Bonneville,
one of the most elegant bikes ever. Maybe
it was the highpoint because I can't think of any Japanese bike since
that has been such a good looker. The bike's stance whether with a rider
on board or on the sidestand was impressive too, the bike looked low and
wide. To finish off the back of the bike there was the ducktail,
extremely well proportioned and
shaped, it continued the styling to a perfect finish. In fact I can't think of another bike with a better
looking ducktail-then or now.Even the sidecovers were well done, not too deep and with the raised section at the front covering the intake trunks to the carbs and blending into the seat tail.
Of course the tank is another execellent piece of work, long and squat
with a nicely curving nose. No matter the pinstriping and colours used
over the years it is still a handsome feature. Basically everything was just so well done.
The tank and ducktail complemented the engine, one of the most well
proportioned and handsome of the time. From the right the dominating
the wideley spaced cam housings with those weird little half-round
rubber endcaps, the polished fin edges on the barrel (z1 only) and the
large polished clutch housing.
From any other angle the header pipes and the mufflers
stole the show.
The mufflers had the typical pressed and welded manufacturing ridges and
a flattened part where the passenger pegs were bolted to the
subframe. The cutoff at the end was vertical which added a last dash of
class to the whole assembly.
If you compare the Z1 with the GT750 Suzuki which had appeared two years
earlier the differences couldn't have been more noticeable. The
two-stroke was all candy colours, flutes and grills and chrome
everywhere. Needlessly overdone is the term.
Good things never last and when the 900 became a 1000 the rot had set
in, the single mufflers let the side down and the choice of striping and
colours never equalled the classey combinations used on its smaller
It was another case of the purity of a
design ruined by attempts to freshen it up. Of all the 1000s the Z1-R had
the most well integrated styling, perhaps not to everyone's taste but
the sharp edged theme was carried off consistently well over the whole
bike. To me the rest of the range seemed like blobs.
The engine lived on into the eighties powering everything from shaft
driven tourers to Eddie Lawson replicas but by that time I had lost
interest. When the Zed's natural successor, in spirit and impact came along, the GPz 900, Kawasaki repeated their party trick. Here was a
bike worthy of continuing the Zed's tradition of big grunt in a smart
buzz around the bike was enormous and I'm sure Kawasaki thought they
would be able to milk the model for quite a few years as they had the
big Zed. Aparently Suzuki
weren't aware of Kawasaki's intentions and brought out the GSXR750 which
took sportbike performance to a new level, in a way following in the
"tread marks" of the big Zed. It certainly had the big grunt but
definitely not the smart suit!